Fighting Anorexia and Alcoholism: Alison's Recovery Story, Part 1
This four-part article series was written exclusively for EatingDisordersOnline.com by Alison Smela. Alison offers more insight into addiction and eating disorder recovery on her blog.
I’ve been given the precious gift of life three times. I was physically born in December of 1961; came alive when I entered treatment for alcoholism in January of 2002; and holistically reborn when I finally got the help I needed to overcome an eating disorder in September of 2008.
The 47 years between 1961 and 2008 were nothing less than a roller coaster of addiction, emotional chaos and nonstop searching for a way out.
My Eating Disorder Started Early
I believe my disordered vision of who I was began as early as 6th grade. I have a picture of me sitting at our Thanksgiving table, all dressed up, in front of a big plate of food and a glass of wine in my hand.
Around that same time, the teasing at school about me being “fat” was beginning to really bother me. After years of little daily remarks, I began to believe I was nothing more than an outcast. All I wanted was to be accepted and considered cool.
The summer between 7th and 8th grade was a significant shift – not only in my appearance but in my self-confidence. Per my doctor’s recommendation, I lost some weight and finally felt good about myself. I was excited to go to back to school that fall after years of dreading the first day. When I walked through the door of my new 8th grade homeroom, instead of hearing snickers about my appearance, I heard praise.
This was the turning point for me. In an instant I equated being smaller to mean acceptance, admiration and praise. Right then I silently vowed I’d never be fat again.
The Beginnings of Alcoholism
That same year, with those same kids who used to tease me, I started drinking. When I was drinking, my eating disorder was in the shadows, and when I tried to curtail my drinking, I’d turn back to unhealthy eating. The overriding problem (other than the obvious) was by trying to “stabilize” one addiction I’d be de-stabilizing the other. I always able to shut out reality by keeping my mind focused on managing my addictions. My life was a never-ending pendulum of disordered perspectives.
For over three decades, there wasn’t one life experience I moved through without relying on some sort of unhealthy coping behavior.
All the way through high school, college, corporate life, marriage and on into mid-life, whenever things became unbalanced, I would feel sane again as soon as I picked up a glass of wine or watched the scale flash a new magic number. Instantly I would believe I was in control, belittling anything else I had to face.
I was strong-willed and stubborn, a perfect combination to resist food and insist on another drink. If I could do either, or ideally both, I felt I could overcome all those “out of control” feelings, not realizing how quickly my life was flailing out of control.
Black outs came more often while hunger did not. I continued this merry-go-round until, after thousands of second chances and countless promises to not drink and to eat more, my life took a very dramatic turn.